#1
I saw an article somewhere on writing a musical composition with four voices (would that be a sonata by definition?). I recall it said something about avoiding too much parallel movement by voices (or they'd blend together and be lost). I'm generally curious to learn how to compose more complex pieces.

So far, I do a melodic line over a chord progression. I add a bass line, but since that generally mirrors notes in the chord I'm playing, I'm not thinking it counts as a separate voice. I also sometimes add high embellishments but those are very short, and I would not call them a melodic phrase.

I have sometimes arpeggiated my chord progressions in different ways, from 1353 to 1315 to 1513 or whatever. The point is, when I've played my lead melody over the arpeggios, that does sort of sound like a counterpoint is happening. An example of what I mean is here, starting at 0:48:

https://soundcloud.com/kenmyers-1/escape

The arpeggiated chord notes are much quicker, shorter, compared to the melodic line, so it sort of feels like two voices. Yet, ultimately, no matter how it sounds, I know it's just a simple melody over a simple chord progression that I've broken down somewhat.

I guess I'm wondering about actually having two or more melodic lines that overlap, as in that article I was reading...

I tried reading Wikipedia on voice leading, and I was not sure I understood it. Does it just mean moving a melodic line gradually in a direction (like by half or whole steps) so it is smooth? That does not seem right, but that's sort of what I came away with. Or, perhaps to articulate it better, does it mean ignoring chords as a chords, and instead composing a multitude of melodies that, in overlapping, necessarily create chords, but to the listener, if done correctly, it sounds more like a multitude of weaving melodies rather than a series of chords? In which case, forget what I said about the melody having to move by small increments, as that seems to be totally wrong...

I did not understand the discussion of "species" in relation to counterpoint, except that I guess it involves how strict the "rules" are, and how much you are allowed to vary from your primary melody.

I read something about counterpoint that said a simple version may be a round, then less simple is a canon, then most complex is a fugue. However, I feel like I missed something because as I understand it, all three of these essentially involve overlapping the same melody over itself, with different levels of variation. Yet you can clearly create two totally distinct melodies that you overlap to create counterpoint (or more than two) and this would seem fundamentally more complex than a fugue, right? Or perhaps my definition of fugue is wrong, and a fugue is not limited to variations on a single melody?

Getting back to the original question, then, how to write an instrumental piece with a multitude of overlapping voices. I guess if you are taught music composition in school, or by a classically trained tutor, you are given information and assignments that gradually lead you through the wilderness of all these terms and systems for musical composition. I'm self-taught and clearly having trouble finding a path to figure the same thing out on my own, because when I look into information about this stuff, I find it hard to make heads or tails of it. So what I'm missing is perhaps some very basic information on classical (or baroque or common practice or whatever...I got to start somewhere, not sure where) composition, simple assignments that build one on the other until I can come to understand, and appreciate, the compositional achievements of people like Bach, and can try my hand at some more complex compositions.

Part of the problem is that my google searches often turn up stuff on music theory. I feel there is a distinction between music theory and composition. I feel I have a very firm grasp of music theory in the sense of understanding the concept of scales, chord-building, keys, related keys, how different scales will lead to different chords in different keys, what the different time signatures are, changing tempo, modes, etc... It seems there are a lot more articles / sites on the internet about this sort of music theory stuff as compared to actually sitting down and understanding how music composition evolved over the centuries.

Sorry, for a Too-Long-Post, bad netiquette. I guess I've said enough, if anyone wants to throw some direction my way, muchas gracias.

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#2
I'll try to keep it in the order of the post:

-Sonata is a compositional form, the amount of voices has little to nothing to do with it. We could talk about sonatas for days, so I'll leave it at that

-Your thinking is mostly correct, but there are some gaps. The voice leading is actually the movement of individual notes, or voices, in the chords you are playing in the progression. Try to conceptualize it as not chords, but multiple melodies moving in harmony, thus creating chords. Your understanding of it later down the page is more correct.

-"Species" refers to different types of counterpoint that offer less freedom to the composer as a compositional training tool. For example, first species refers to one note against one note, where fourth species involves suspensions and resolutions. All the different species as a whole combine to create good counterpoint; the individual ones are just a training tool conceptually and technically.

-A round is where all the voices are identical and enter at different times

-A canon is basically a round where voices are not identical but imitative, for example, at different pitch levels.

-A fugue is a complex contrapuntal composition with multiple imitative voices and that is built on a main theme that is developed through the use of imitation at different pitch levels. (Basically, that is. Forget sonatas, we could talk fugues for YEARS.)

-To answer your last question, you eat an elephant one bite at a time. Start by limiting yourself and composing extremely simple pieces that maybe feature on technique prominently, almost like etudes, then increase the complexity and you'll be putting Bach to shame in no time!

I kid. No one can touch Bach :P

Hope that helps, and I'll be up for a while so feel free to let me know if I made zero sense, or want more ideas.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#3
To accurately understand the concept of classical music, you must first let go of the notion of "chord progressions" altogether.

Chord progressions imply that the music is built on a series of vertical stacks of notes. Sure, many kinds of music work this way. But classical does not. Instead of thinking the chords as stacked notes, think of them as different horizontal lines that happen to meet each other in specific ways, creating the sense of harmony.

This is basic but important. The music is very linearly oriented. To view the music through the prism of chord progressions is to miss almost all of its ideas.

Counterpoint is the backbone of tonal classical music. You will undoubtedly hear the word "rules" when it comes to counterpoint (and thus tonal harmony which is created out of counterpoint). This is inaccurate and destructive. Instead, think of counterpoint as the chemistry of tonal music: under specific circumstances, the notes behave in very specific ways in their environment. That is to say, there is a natural language and tendencies to the way a melody moves in context of one another. To truly understand this will take a lot of time studying the language. Again, learning these as rules will get you nowhere, and you will create not good music from them.

Voiceleading is the same thing as counterpoint, just usually in more of a harmonic context.

Before getting to the technical specifics, you may want to get a better general idea. I recommend the Brahms walkthrough in my signature.

Here's also a fugue with analysis:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbokws-DI3A

...modes and scales are still useless.


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Last edited by Xiaoxi at Dec 10, 2013,
#4
Xiaoxi hit the nail on the head.

I would like to add IMO that the thing we call "harmony" is actually a result of MELODY, therefore counterpoint is the entire basis of the system.

Perhaps to truly understand the concepts of music, regardless of genre, the idea of chord progressions should be transcended.

My mantra has always been never play chords: play melodies. Just play 3 at once.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#5
Quote by Jet Penguin

I would like to add IMO that the thing we call "harmony" is actually a result of MELODY, therefore counterpoint is the entire basis of the system.

Very true. And in fact, even in popular music, counterpoint is at work. It's not the chord progression that makes the music compelling. It's also not the vocal melody. It's the chord progression against the vocal melody.

But when you strip that down, what is it that really makes it compelling? The bassline and the vocal line. Line against line. Counterpoint.


...modes and scales are still useless.


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#6
Total agreement. That's why open position cowboy chords will never blow minds like Bach.

That Mass in B Minor. Drool......

Quite frankly, as a fellow Berklee guy, there needs to be way more of this stuff taught, especially at the institutional level.

It's a shame all people want to know is where to put their fingers and what the scales with all the right notes are. UGH!
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#7
Quote by Jet Penguin

Quite frankly, as a fellow Berklee guy, there needs to be way more of this stuff taught, especially at the institutional level.

Oh cool!! Are you there right now? I graduated last year. Boston is da best.

And yea I agree. Harmony 1-4 was harmful to me. The more quizs I aced in those classes, the less I could actually play bop lines. Then I really sat down and got to know Bach. All of a sudden it clicked. Charlie Parker and Wes and all those other guys were doing the same thing Bach was doing, just with a different rhythm.

...modes and scales are still useless.


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#8
Yeah man, I'm finishing up now to be out next fall, Massachusetts born and raised! (As we totally hijack this thread and possibly scar the OP for life getting all pumped over Bach) Pro Music FTW lol.

I transferred from UVM, which teaches all the theory in their program from a Classical standpoint, so I had a really solid grounding (all counterpoint all the time) between that and my jazz studies there as well.

But I agree, my jazz chops went through the roof after going through the Sonatas and Partitias, and I haven't thought about chord scale theory in an age. Just one of my many gripes with Berklee/music ed, but everyone wants to know where to put their hands to sound amazing and that's it. Scales are only useful to keep the hands in shape IMO. (mini rant over)

But an understanding of counterpoint + a firm grasp on outline theory and specificity vs generalization + compositional skills = a monster improviser.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Dec 10, 2013,
#9
Lately I've been trying to wrap my head around the idea that chordal thinking isn't useful when trying to write music. I remember that stupid chord progression chart in my theory book. "I" goes to anything, iii goes to vi, vi goes to ii or IV e ct. I thought if you did it different you "broke the rules" lol. When you realize that Bach and Beethoven weren't thinking insert chord here and it's more about themes and the convergence of melodies it becomes harder to wrap your head around. I tried to do species counterpoint a year or two ago but didn't really get get it. I found it difficult to relate modal counterpoint to my conceptions about chord progressions. I think I'll give it another go. Perhaps my new perceptions will help.

EDIT: That turned into more of stream of consciousness ramble then I intended. I was actually kind of hoping one of you Berklee guys could maybe give me some advice on relating those modal species exercises to tonal stuff like Bach and Beethoven. It's still kind of hard for me to think about the bass. I think I tried to plan it out to much.

Ugh. Never mind. I guess I don't really know what I'm asking. I'm just being incoherent. I'll just go look at more music. C. P. E Bach wrote a bit about why he disagreed with Rameau's fundamental bass theory at the end of his keyboard technique treatise. I'll just wait for that to come if from the library. Maybe he'll help.
Last edited by Duaneclapdrix at Dec 11, 2013,
#10
Well, that's all very helpful. I had sort of been assuming that classical composers sort of planned out that they would have their voices "meet" to create a particular chord tone periodically. A simplistic example might be if the first beat at the start of every measure had the voices meeting to create a C, then a G, then an Am, then an F chord (the infamously overused pop chord progression), such that classical music was not all that different from popular music in that there were chord progressions going on, just that the classical music had more melodic voices in total increasing the complexity. So, to my thinking, it was more like a quantitative versus qualitative difference between popular and classical music.

So the concept that classical really does not pay attention to chords at all, except perhaps as an incidental tool in deciding how to create the desired counterpoint between two or more voices, is intriguing.

As an outsider and relative novice, this may be wrong, but is it possible this distinction is overstated? I mean, if I wanted to make powerful music, I know how to generate a strong tension and resolution with particular chord progressions. If a classical composer tried to creat a similar emotional feeling of tension and release with counterpoint, it is not too hard to imagine the composer might hit on melodies that "coincidentally" create the same chords at the same points in time as my chord progression. In other words, in a very literal sense, as stated above, chord progressions are simply three voices providing counterpoint, albeit the tendency for the voices to move relative to one another much of the time makes it extremely subtle (which I guess is why counterpoint has rules against too much relative movement). I guess you could call chord progressions the most subtle form of counterpoint.

I spend a lot of time playing chord progressions, trying to create interest as a solo guitarist without a looper or anything. Now that I think about it, I do tend to gravitate to progressions that have a sense of internal voices moving about, and throw in modified chords to make this more pronounced (so that there is one "voice" that is not moving relative to the others).


As an example, I like to play this progression (strumming each chord for a measure or two, with an interesting strum pattern):

A F#m A7 Dm Am Dm7 G7 E
---------------------------------------------
0 2 0 1 0 1 1 0
2 2 2 3 1 1 0 0
2 2 0 2 2 2 0 2
2 4 2 0 2 0 0 3
0 4 0 x 0 x 2 3
x 2 x x x x 3 0

To me, this evokes an interesting tension/release, and I think I hear "voices" moving within it as I play it. Not necessarily moving voices, but moving voices contrasted with voices that are held still for two or three measures.

I like chord progressions like this even though I tend to think they are not commercially viable. One thing that I really like about them is when I find one that is easily shifted to another key. For example, in the above progression, if Em is played instead of E, you can just start the progression over from C rather than A. In fact, arguably the progression has moved to the key of Am/C by the end, and the final E modulates back to A, but I find it easier to think of the whole thing as A that goes far afield before coming home. It does move enough into the key of Am that the final E is, to my ear, a bit jarring, and I sometimes play the Em for half a measure then modulating it to E. And I sometimes replace the G7 with B7, as that swings nicely to the E or Em, for variety.

Well, as you can tell, I'm rather fond of thinking in terms of chords, at least as a labeling technique, though perhaps my ear is telling me what chords to choose based on a subconscious appreciation of the counterpoint melodies that are going on.

Are we entirely sure classical composers do not pick chord progressions, pick what notes their "voices" will have at certain intervals to lock in / evoke those chords at the right time, and then decide what notes they want between those "chord points" that will create nice contrapuntal harmonies? It seems like the easiest way to do it, to me. And if that is happening, then I'm not sure it is fair to say that the music is not composed as a series of chord progressions, because it really is just chord progressions with internal harmonic embellishment. Whether it sounds like that to the listener, that is ultimately the compositional method. Well, perhaps I just need a better ear and more experience hearing the contrapuntal melodic lines to fully understand to what degree classical music is distinct from music based on a progression of chord tone moments.

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
Last edited by krm27 at Dec 11, 2013,
#11
Ken,

Now you are conceptualizing it more accurately. The thing to remember is that in Bach's time, the concept of a "C chord" or a "G minor chord" had not yet been standardized or codified and composers look at chords and labeled them with figured bass symbols, representing the intervals made above that root. Composers of the day certainly knew how to harmonize a scale to generate triads, but their compositional method was not chordally based. The chords were a result of melodic movement. While you could say a classical piece has chords that may progress, this is not largely relevant because it was not composed that way. Bach and co. didn't write down some chords to strum and try different melodies out until they had a piece.

Now, because chords contain voices, it is of course totally possible to make amazing music without thinking solely contrapuntally, if you still have an understanding of harmonic movement and how chords work (There were and are plenty of amazing songwriters who are not contrapuntalists).

But the main conception here is that in the classical world, there are melodies, and the "chords" are only a result from the interplay of melodic lines. In popular music, the main melody is harmonized with "chords" and the counterpoint and voice leading is a result of this harmonization. The results are similar, but the methods are reversed, if that makes any sense.

Duaneclapdrix, I'm not entirely sure what you are asking, but the easiest way to get a conception on this material is to practice it.

Write out a bass line without rhythms, maybe ten notes or so, and then write a melody, one note for each bass note. Then fill in the inner voices with lower harmonies. (Of course, this is still incredibly vague, but if you want specific counterpoint training, I'd be happy to show you how the whole species thing operates in more detail)
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#12
Quote by Jet Penguin
Ken,

Duaneclapdrix, I'm not entirely sure what you are asking, but the easiest way to get a conception on this material is to practice it.

Write out a bass line without rhythms, maybe ten notes or so, and then write a melody, one note for each bass note. Then fill in the inner voices with lower harmonies. (Of course, this is still incredibly vague, but if you want specific counterpoint training, I'd be happy to show you how the whole species thing operates in more detail)


Yeah, I wasn't sure what I was asking either.

I did some of the Fux book a bit ago but I found it kind of hard to relate the modal counterpoint to tonality. Something must have changed to make chords arise from counterpoint. I suppose I have been puzzling over what changed. Did Bach just write counterpoint and not worry about chords at all? It seems he must have thought about them just a little bit. I don't know, I've just been trying to get into to peoples heads lately.

Anyway I've been looking at a lot of Bach and Beethoven lately and I've ordered some books that might illuminate some things from the local music library, so I'll get it sorted eventually.
#13
What changed were the definitions of harmony. Are you familiar with figured bass symbols? These are what was used prior to the common definitions of chords that we used today. If Bach's voices came together as a root position C chord, he did not call it that. In his day it was seen as the intervals of a M3 and P5 over a C, as this sonority was thought of as a unit.
However, eventually the definitions changed, and that became know as a C major "chord."

So the answer is yes and no. Bach knew that these sonorities were things, and probably aimed for them; his compositions were not aimless. But these had not yet been defined and codified as "chords." And indeed, after chords had been standardized and developed, all composers were aware of them as units in their compositions.

However, these remained in the classical world a result of melody, and no composer jotted down a bunch of block chords and split them up between the orchestra, throwing in a main melody, as popular music often does. The melody is what matters most, the harmonies are always negotiable and secondary. Hope that helps.

As for the Fux book and modal counterpoint, the interesting thing is if you take a survey of world music styles, 90% of it is probably modal haha. All you have to do is take the principles of voice leading taught in the Fux book and use it to harmonize the melody you are working with. A melody can be harmonized an infinite number of ways, and with a working knowledge of chord progressions, relatively easily unless you decide to move beyond the simple stuff. But the point is the melody determines the possible harmonies of which you can choose, not the other way around. This is what the classical composers worked with.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Dec 16, 2013,
#14
Okay, if counterpoint really still is the ultimate compositional method, why is it not more widely used? Is it because people are too lazy to learn how to use it effectively and instead choose to play chords because it's easier to think more vertically?
Last edited by Elintasokas at Dec 16, 2013,
#15
That's a possibility. I think that another reason is the way the styles have evolved. Counterpoint is still everything in the classical world, but the popular styles have evolved in such a way that counterpoint is no longer necessary to create great music.

The point of it all is not that counterpoint is more valid than simply thinking vertically, but the implications of thinking contrapuntally rather than vertically. I think that the main thing to take away is that a melody is far more important than the chords, and that the harmony should revolve around the melody, not the other way around. Melody is the foundation of most of (our) music, not harmony.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#16
I have the same question as Elintasokas, but perhaps clarifies: Is there any great rock music, or pop music, that seems to employ a contrapuntal / voice leading approach rather than chord-based composition?


Quote by Jet Penguin
But the point is the melody determines the possible harmonies of which you can choose, not the other way around.


I struggle with accepting this notion. My personal song-writing style, with a few exceptions, is to find chord progressions that I like and then, by humming or singing over the progression, a melody naturally occurs to me that seems to fit best IMO. While there are obviously many (countless?) other melodies that could arise from the same progression, there is one that stands out to me. It may even be in my mind as I am first coming up with the progression. But it still seems like a chord progression can come first and thereby help determine the possible melodies for a piece.

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#17
This stuff is fascinating...

Though i feel like it does beg the question how come these huge orchestra's and things and even the older classical pieces always end up with the big loud parts, and the nice quiet parts on very pleasant chords. I mean its difficult to believe that 10 pleasing melodies in the same key overlap perfectly to end with a combined G7, then a Cmaj, or something else that sounds nice in a chord progression. Im just saying when you're writing parts for 10 different instruments at once, the harmonies are kind of a big deal, and would seem more difficult to accomplish than the melodies.

When i listen to classical music, often times the violin will carry the melody, and the trombone or something else plays the running bass line, but its difficult for them to both be playing at once without conceptualizing some sort of "chord"

Also, its interesting because i thought "cadences" and marches and things were as old as time, and today I can only really conceptualize that through the use of a chord progression, I mean certainly these guys knew that there was underlying harmony during cadences, not just groups of melodies, that made such sound. Itd be hard to write one without having the harmony first yes?

/e I was just listening to "float on" by modest mouse, and it seems to have been done like you say maybe, I mean it seems like lots of melodies, that just bump into each other, its quite pleasant too.. I love the harmonies in the chorus and at the end, i think there music does this counterpoint thing, maybe...

/e hate to edit twice, but it sort of makes sense to me now, harmony doesnt really dictate melody, but when your writing 10 melodies, the first one you write greatly influences what the others do. I guess thats why they call it "lead" guitar, even if it usually follows the bass
Last edited by blunderwonder at Dec 16, 2013,
#18
Quote by Jet Penguin
What changed were the definitions of harmony. Are you familiar with figured bass symbols? These are what was used prior to the common definitions of chords that we used today. If Bach's voices came together as a root position C chord, he did not call it that. In his day it was seen as the intervals of a M3 and P5 over a C, as this sonority was thought of as a unit.
However, eventually the definitions changed, and that became know as a C major "chord."

So the answer is yes and no. Bach knew that these sonorities were things, and probably aimed for them; his compositions were not aimless. But these had not yet been defined and codified as "chords." And indeed, after chords had been standardized and developed, all composers were aware of them as units in their compositions.

However, these remained in the classical world a result of melody, and no composer jotted down a bunch of block chords and split them up between the orchestra, throwing in a main melody, as popular music often does. The melody is what matters most, the harmonies are always negotiable and secondary. Hope that helps.

As for the Fux book and modal counterpoint, the interesting thing is if you take a survey of world music styles, 90% of it is probably modal haha. All you have to do is take the principles of voice leading taught in the Fux book and use it to harmonize the melody you are working with. A melody can be harmonized an infinite number of ways, and with a working knowledge of chord progressions, relatively easily unless you decide to move beyond the simple stuff. But the point is the melody determines the possible harmonies of which you can choose, not the other way around. This is what the classical composers worked with.


Thanks man. Informative post.
#19
Quote by blunderwonder
Though i feel like it does beg the question how come these huge orchestra's and things and even the older classical pieces always end up with the big loud parts, and the nice quiet parts on very pleasant chords. I mean its difficult to believe that 10 pleasing melodies in the same key overlap perfectly to end with a combined G7, then a Cmaj, or something else that sounds nice in a chord progression. Im just saying when you're writing parts for 10 different instruments at once, the harmonies are kind of a big deal, and would seem more difficult to accomplish than the melodies.


Don't make the mistake of equating the parts of part-writing with instrumental parts. In a piece for orchestra, a number of instruments might double up on the same part. For example, the flute could double the soprano part an octave above the first and second violins, and the cello and bassoon could double the bass in unison with each other and the double bass could double them an octave below. In this manner a standard four part texture can be distributed across a whole orchestra if need be.

Also, it isn't a case of blindly putting together melodies in the same key and hoping they sound alright together. But keeping each melodic line independent really is the hardest part, it's all too easy to write according to a preconceived harmonic background and let the voices move awkwardly.
.
#20
Quote by Jet Penguin
That's a possibility. I think that another reason is the way the styles have evolved. Counterpoint is still everything in the classical world, but the popular styles have evolved in such a way that counterpoint is no longer necessary to create great music.

The point of it all is not that counterpoint is more valid than simply thinking vertically, but the implications of thinking contrapuntally rather than vertically. I think that the main thing to take away is that a melody is far more important than the chords, and that the harmony should revolve around the melody, not the other way around. Melody is the foundation of most of (our) music, not harmony.


Not to go off on a tangent but elaborate on this, why are music theorists concerned with harmonic analysis anyway? Is it just another way to gain a new perspective of why the music sounds like it does, but in the end it's just icing on the cake?
Last edited by sweetdude3000 at Dec 16, 2013,
#21
Here comes the GIGANTIC post:

Nietsche, thanks for clarifying that 4 part harmony can be split through a large ensemble thanks to doubling and other arranging tools. And it isn't random. The composers knew what chords were and how they worked. Melody just comes first.

While not completely contrapuntal, a great deal of the Yes catalogue comes to mind first when thinking of contrapuntal rock music, as well as the compositions of Gentle Giant. Composition does not have to be 100% contrapuntal or vertical. Balance is always good.

Ken, the way I look at it is two identical melodies with vastly different chord progressions are the same song. But two identical chord progressions with differing melodies are not. Both compositional approaches for popular music (chords first or melody first? the age old question...) are completely valid. But to me anyway, the melody is what makes the piece. How many songs do you know with the same chords? Many. How many songs do you know with identical melodies? Probably less.

As far as difficulty of writing, it all comes down to familiarity. Sitting at the guitar and playing a melody without a progression yields infinite possibilites, and a melody can be harmonized in a huge variety of ways. (Reharmonization is a whole subject in itself). For me anyways, and everyone is different, writing the harmonies first, unless I want a specific progression, limits my melodic choices because now I have to compose something that "works" over the chords.


This Bach example most definitely has a chord progression. You could even strum along to it on the guitar. However, note the lack of chords being played.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enJgKeut98M

However, depending on how you like your compositions, the idea of a chord progression could collapse onto itself. Check out this Ravel example. Sure, there are chords there. And they are more "vertical" in a sense. But is there really a chord "progression" in the traditional sense? Or is it all about melody and textures?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnKFIp7CahY

My point being that at least in the minds of these composers, the melodic material was the primary goal and the resultant chords were of lesser importance.

But these composers had absolutely a rock-solid knowledge of chords and progressions. Nothing is random, everything has direction.

This is the point of harmonic analysis. Even if we only write melodies, we are still making harmonies that move in a certain way. (or sometimes not at all!) By studying composers and learning how they achieved these sounds, we can assimilate these techniques and innovate upon them, not just in classical but in all genres.

The bottom line is there's no wrong way to compose your music, but when trying to understand a new technique, one must understand the thought processes of its practitioners.

WHEW!
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Dec 16, 2013,
#22
Hmm, interesting stuff. I'm more interested in Jazz and Jazz Fusion so I've always thought in terms of chord progressions and just recently kind of discovered counterpoint.

I'm planning to learn at least a little of it to see if it is of any use to me. What do you think would be the best way to start learning? Just listen to tons of classical and start by writing really simple stuff using the species system and strict rules?
Last edited by Elintasokas at Dec 17, 2013,
#23
That's a good way to start. Remember that the different species are merely tools for you to solve problems with, and to practice by limiting yourself in order to assimilate new techniques.

Going through the species and creating exercises is great, and I would also highly recommend composing short melodies and harmonizing them, trying to keep each harmony in its own melodic line. Start with two part harmony and work your way up to 4.

Also listening and analyzing the literature and music is always a good idea. If you have a jazz background and have dealt with reharmonization, you know that a melody can be harmonized near-infinite ways, and how grossly irrelevant the changes can be in relation to the melody. Write one melody and maybe see how many different harmonizations you can come up with, from the simple (modal possibly) to the extreme (bitonal or atonal possibly, if you have the technical know-how)

Start small. Limit yourself to the specific technique you are aiming to improve. Baby steps.

And write as much as you can!

Also, if you want to get super specific, as to the rules and what not, we can talk that too. Perhaps a counterpoint thread is in order.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Dec 17, 2013,
#24
Quote by Jet Penguin
Yeah man, I'm finishing up now to be out next fall, Massachusetts born and raised! (As we totally hijack this thread and possibly scar the OP for life getting all pumped over Bach) Pro Music FTW lol.

I transferred from UVM, which teaches all the theory in their program from a Classical standpoint, so I had a really solid grounding (all counterpoint all the time) between that and my jazz studies there as well.

But I agree, my jazz chops went through the roof after going through the Sonatas and Partitias, and I haven't thought about chord scale theory in an age. Just one of my many gripes with Berklee/music ed, but everyone wants to know where to put their hands to sound amazing and that's it. Scales are only useful to keep the hands in shape IMO. (mini rant over)

But an understanding of counterpoint + a firm grasp on outline theory and specificity vs generalization + compositional skills = a monster improviser.


You suggest playing melodies by ear of guys like Bach, Schubert and Rachmaninoff as a good improvising tool over worrying about CST?
#25
In a sense, yes. Bach's solo violin music accomplishes a goal most guitar players dream of: You can hear the chord progression in the melody, even when only single notes are being played.

Look its like this. You have a chord you are soloing over. Odds are the bass player is bringing out the root. The 5th tells you nothing about the chord, but the 3rd and the root is a complete structure. So you aim for the thirds of the chords and link them, creating a good counterpoint. This brings out the chord changes and gives solos direction, as well as making them sound clear and harmonically accurate.

CST has a few major flaws. The notion that Dm7-G7-Cmaj7 all require different scales, even if they are the same notes, is overcomplicating and slightly absurd IMHO.

In addition CST tells you nothing about chromaticsm, which is a gigantic part of melodic playing. Nor does it address any of the notes outside of the 6 "safe" ones for every chord. This leaves out a large part of the musical universe, such as the dreaded "avoid note," which is really, if you know counterpoint, a suspension.

If you take actual improvisations from the greats (Armstong, Coltrane, Govan, etc.) and analyze each individual note as it pertains to a chord scale giving it a scale degree and whatnot, it won't make much sense; the analysis would have no meaning.

I'm not claiming you shouldn't know CST. Knowing when to use Dorian or Lydian b7 is a good, good thing. But CST is only the tip of the iceberg, a springboard for developing lines, not the lines themselves.

I'm not saying that because you can play Bach you are now a jazz god. I'm saying that harmony is a result of the melody, and a good grasp on counterpoint will give you the ability to connect the chords and make your solos a level above formless pentatonic and major scale meandering. Which is what CST basically is. "Here's six safe notes for this chord, play them at random and that's jazz." It's not a perfect system.

Maybe counterpoint can wait. Perhaps a harmonically clear improvisation thread is in order.

I apologize if my post sounds aggressive or egotistical; I mean no such behavior. These are just my opinions and observations as a player, student, and teacher.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Dec 18, 2013,
#26
Quote by sweetdude3000
You suggest playing melodies by ear of guys like Bach, Schubert and Rachmaninoff as a good improvising tool over worrying about CST?


If we're talking about counterpoint Schubert and Rachmaninov aren't the first two names that come to mind.
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#27
Well, this seems to be an issue for live, improvisational playing, where you need to create a series of notes on the fly. That's not often the case in song-writing, in my experience.

If I have a chord progression, which is almost always my starting point, I then make up lyrics to match the mood & cadence. Then if playback the progression while singing the lyrics (or just hum with the lyrics in mind), my voice naturally lands on certain notes that fee right. These often include out-of-scale notes, though generally in a passing context, but I don't even worry about this. Eventually, I transcribe what I'm singing or humming and I have my lead melody, and it's not a derivative of any particular branch of music theory or compositional theory.

I am curious about the notion of creating music more with thought than feeling, like consciously working out melodies rather than letting it be subconscious process as it is now. Yet, I'm still unsure whether great composers, or classical composers, learn to compose great works with the conscious mind rather than just feeling what should come, or whether they simply become very adept at accessing and transcribing the music that bubbles up from the subconscious? In the latter case, they are really not doing anything different than me, albeit without needing the "crutch" of a chord progression to set the mood, and with likely more dexterity / efficiency. In the former case, then it seems there's a lot of science/math/logic to music that I need to learn because the notion of composing melodies through a conscious process of figuring what best fits where, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, seems rather daunting.

I guess a related notion is the idea of the call & answer in music, that a phrase of music is like a question/call, and then there is a corresponding phrase that will harmoniously (or melodically since this is horizontal movement?) answer that phrase. I think you listen to the first phrase with an open mind and it will evoke a fitting answering phrase. But do more learned composers use a conscious, thinking process to create an answering phrase?

Ken
Bernie Sanders for President!
#28
I think the thought vs feeling thing is too subjective of a debate. Notes by themselves are devoid of any meaning and are only given value by the expectations of the listener IMO, but that's a whole other can of worms.

To say that Bach wasn't thinking about the stuff he was writing is silly, everyone is involved in composition on a conscious level, even when improvising. I only brought up improv to illustrate my gripes with CST.

The two things of which you speak, thought and planning vs transcribing the subconscious are the same thing. It only feels like you are not thinking about it due to a relative level of mastery over that concept.

When you sing your melodies to the lyrics and transcribe, you are still working out a melody, your ears are just good enough that it doesn't take you forever. You are still doing everything someone doing it for the first time does. You have just done it enough that its easy. It is the same thing with the classical composers. Of course there's a huge amount of thought involved, it just seems automatic because they are good at it and have done it thousands of times.

My point is it may seem daunting or overly thought out, but so was your first chord or your first song. With experience comes ease and the thought process involved becomes less demanding. Yes, there is a logic to counterpoint to a degree. There is also a logic to everything in music.

I dunno if that makes sense, but its a vague question you are asking. But the way to make it less daunting is to practice it. It will always seem daunting until you start doing it, and it will feel more natural every time.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Last edited by Jet Penguin at Dec 19, 2013,
#29
Regardless if you are thinking about chords or not, if you are combining more than one voice, chord changes are happening and you should be aware of what they are because you want to have the ability to manipulate those unique sounds. The perfect cadence, bVI major, IVm, plagal cadence, bII major, inversions etc. What is a chord? Three or more notes played at the same time.

What's mostly being described here is contrapuntal writing, and 12 tone technique (which was an early 20th century invention that has largely died out).

Any good contrapuntal writers knows what the chord of the moment is. Try playing your cowboy chords along with any classical piece by Bach. Sometimes a lot of changes are happening, even one per beat, but they are happening and the composers would have known exactly what changes and resolutions were happening.

Keep in mind that all music comes from the harmonic overtone series (which is a large study on its own) and because of this we want to hear certain resolutions, the tritone resolution being one of them.

I'd suggest reading a bit about the harmonic overtone series, circle of fifths, cadences, vertical and horizontal harmony etc. The Delemont series goes very in depth with this. If you are interested in the harmonic overtone series it kind of goes hand in hand with music history starting with the Gregorian chants and the perfect 5th.

Also consider this. If you wanted to take a song like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and do a classical arrangement, be it contrapuntal or chordal how would you do that? Would you throw the chords out the window? Of course not! If you did, the song would be barely recognizable. You'd start with the harmonic framework using the I IV V progression.

Try taking an easy classical piece arranged for guitar and see if you can figure out which chords are happening. I bet you'll even recognize some chord shapes.
Last edited by Bijingus at Dec 21, 2013,